Research has suggested that, in the last 50 years, animal populations have fallen by a stunning 70%. In the greater world at large it’s not just animals that vanish, it’s just about everything you can think of. When’s the last time you saw a rotary phone? A cassette player? Animals, companies, technology, even countries come and go. No one is immune to the tides of time. But sometimes a twist of fate can grab something from the brink and save it from extinction at the last minute.
10. Tom Cruise saved Ray-Ban
In 2020, the company that owns the Ray-Ban brand of sunglasses made €7.7 billion, which is about $7.5 billion. They also own the Oakley brand and a few others but suffice it to say, Ray-Bans are popular. But that wasn’t always the case. In the early 80s, the company was struggling and sales were going downhill. There were rumors of even discontinuing them entirely. And then Tom Cruise happened.
In the poster for the 1983 movie Risky Business, Cruise is sporting a pair of the iconic glasses, and he wears them in the film. Sales of Wayfarers, the kind he was wearing, increased by 50% after the film’s release.
Three years later, Cruise wore Ray-Bans in Top Gun and sales increased by another 40%. By 1988, director Barry Levinson was actually opposing Cruise wearing them in the movie Rain Man because he was so closely associated with the brand. He wore them anyway, and may have single-handedly saved the company thanks to his work in the 80s.
9. Plastic Billiard Balls Saved Elephants
It’s hard to comprehend just how brutal the ivory trade has been to the elephant population. There are less than one million elephants alive today. In the year 1800 there were 26 million in India. The wide scale slaughter is almost unbelievable. But it would have been worse if not for a man named John Wesley Hyatt.
As the 19th century was coming to a close, billiards were increasingly gaining popularity. What many people today may not realize is that,at that time, billiard balls were often made of ivory. So for the sake of pool and snooker, thousands and thousands of elephants were dying. But even the manufacturers were not entirely happy about this because ivory was expensive. If a ball wasn’t made right, it would break and a single tusk could only make four or five balls. It was believed at the time that there were not enough elephants in the world to keep up with demands.
John Wesley Hyatt devised a solution that arguably saved elephants for certain extinction.This was a time when plastics were still relatively new. Hyatt developed a new plastic called celluloid in 1869 that was hard, durable and perfect for billiard balls. It was also much cheaper than ivory. The industry switched over and though elephants were and still are poached for ivory; it was dramatically improved.
8. The Man Who Pretended to be a Crane
Birds are some of the most remarkable creatures in the world. From tiny hummingbirds with their 1,260 beats per minute heart rate to the oldest confirmed bird in history, a pink cockatoo, that made it all the way to 83-years-old. And then there are whooping cranes, to which George Archibald dedicated his life.
In 1942, there were about 15 whooping cranes left in the wild. Bringing them back from the edge took the conservation work of many people, but George Archibald deserves special recognition for his dedication. To save the species he worked with a female crane named Tex who had been raised in captivity, imprinted on humans, and essentially didn’t know how to be a bird. But she would be integral to saving a species whose genetic diversity was so very limited.
Since Tex related to humans and perhaps even believed she was one, Archibald did what he felt was the only logical thing. He courted her. He moved her into his home and engaged in rituals like nest building and dancing. The idea was that, if she bonded with him, she would naturally begin ovulating because she expected to mate. Then the scientists could take over, artificially inseminate her, and breed a new generation of little cranes. And, remarkably, after years of trying, it worked. After several failures, they had a chick named Gee Whiz in 1982. Though Tex unfortunately died not long after, the story gained international attention and today their population is around 800.
7. Darwin’s Theories Saved the Wine Industry
Charles Darwin is obviously best known for his contributions to evolutionary science but he’s also arguably responsible for saving European wine from going extinct, something surely many people today are happy about.
He didn’t directly save wine but his work did as European grape growers became overcome by a parasitic louse called phylloxera. It infected the roots and killed the plants. It was determined that the little monsters had come from America and a solution based on Darwin’s theories of adaptation was devised. European vines would be grafted to American roots that were resistant to the louse. They still engage in this practice today.
6. Life Magazine Saved the Shar-Pei
Shar-Peis are not the most popular dog breed in the world, but they’re certainly still very recognizable and weirdly cute with their wrinkly bodies. The entire breed nearly went extinct in the 1940s thanks to the Chinese government putting a large tax on the dogs, native to the country, causing their numbers to drop so sharply that Guinness declared them the rarest breed in the world in the ’60s.
A Hong Kong breeder tried to gain international attention for the breed to save them and Life Magazine ended up putting one of the dogs on the cover in 1979. This brought them to the attention of American dog lovers and demand went through the roof, bringing the breed back from the edge.
5. Avocados Were Saved by Giant Sloths
Have you ever wondered why an avocado has such a giant pit? Compared to literally any other fruit out there, the avocado doesn’t make a lot of sense. Especially when you consider how other plants with fruit tend to reproduce. Animals generally eat the fruit and the seeds are spread through their scat. But an avocado pit is huge and inedible, at least by modern standards. Not so much by prehistoric ones, though, and that’s when the avocado was saved from certain doom by giant sloths.
Avocados date back to the Cenozoic era, some 65 million years ago. As mammals became the dominant life forms after the dinosaurs, things like giant sloths would have eaten avocados whole, wandered the countryside, and spread the seeds around. The massive seed made sense because large animals could eat them and the seed would survive their digestion.
Wild avocado growth spread from there and even though giant sloths and their brethren died out 13,000 years ago, the avocados had spread far enough that humans could begin to cultivate them and keep the species, which might have otherwise died out when their seed-spreading predators vanished, from disappearing.
4. The Great Depression Helped Save Turkeys
You don’t think of the Great Depression as being the sort of thing that saved anyone or anything, but that’s not entirely true. The Depression had a huge effect on turkeys. Turkeys numbered in the millions before European settlers arrived. In the 1930s, there were about 30,000 left and 20 states had lost them entirely.
Though there were other conservation efforts in place to save the species, the Depression gave them what they needed most – space. As families lost their farms, the land returned to nature. Crops like cotton, that had no benefit to wild animals, vanished and other crops returned, giving habitat and food to the animals. Wild turkeys were able to breed in peace again and start to build their numbers back up.
3. Poisoned Toad Sausages May Save Northern Quolls
A northern quoll is a little marsupial that weighs up to a couple of pounds and can be found in Australia. They also have the unfortunate habit of eating cane toads. Cane toads are both toxic and invasive in Australia so the quolls had no history with them to know that they needed to be avoided. As a result, quolls try to eat cane toads and the toxins kill them. The result has been a devastating blow to the northern quoll population.
Researchers are trying to protect the marsupials but controlling the cane toad population has not been successful, so efforts to dissuade the quolls from eating them have popped up via creative means. In other words, people are making toad sausages.
Researchers are making sausages out of non-toxic parts of cane toads and poisoning them. Not with a lethal chemical, but one that will make quolls sick. They drop the sausages ahead of where cane toads currently exist with the intention that quolls will eat them, associate cane toads with being sick, and when the real toads show up, they won’t eat them. It’s a novel idea but there’s been mixed results as the program is still relatively new, though evidence has shown it does produce positive results.
2. The Great Barrier Reef is Being Saved by Robots That Kill Starfish
The Great Barrier Reef in Australia has been at risk due to climate change, pollution and m, perhaps unexpectedly, predatory starfish. The Crown of Thorns starfish feasts on coral and is incredibly hard to get rid of. You can cut one in half and it’ll just turn into two starfish. To kill them they have to be either poisoned or completely destroyed, which is obviously not easy to do in the ocean. Not for the living, anyway. But for a robot?
The COTsbot is a drone that patrols the reef and attacks crown of thorns starfish, injecting them with a toxin. The starfish normally have a sustainable population, but outbreaks occur and they can be devastating. It’s been estimated 40% of the reef’s loss is due to the starfish. Farm runoff and overfishing of their natural predators may be the reason. A COTSbot carries enough poison to take out 200 of them and can patrol for eight hours straight, which is far better than a human diver.
1. Peregrine Falcons Were Saved by Sex Hats
The fastest living thing in the world is the peregrine falcon which has a dive speed of 200 miles per hour. These little birds of prey are pretty amazing, but we almost lost them as a result of the pesticide known as DDT in the ’50s. DDT had the effect of making the eggs of birds non-viable. The shells would be too soft and no chick could develop. By the 1960s there were no falcons left in the wild in the US east of the Rockies, and few left elsewhere.
An effort to save the birds grew, and that required an artificial breeding program. Breeding falcons is no easy task, however. It requires several people to hold the bird, a delicate and dangerous task, and then an attempt to get it to produce sperm which is not always easy and greatly stresses the bird out. The result was maybe two or three birds being born per year.
A remarkable innovation by a falconer named Lester Boyd turned the tides and saved the birds. Boyd invented a falcon sex hat. It is colloquially referred to as an F-Hat, and you can guess what the F stands for. A falconer must wear the hat all the time around the male, they must wear the same clothes to make the bird comfortable, and they need to spend as much time with them as possible during breeding season. Once the male gets comfortable, they hop on the hat on the falconer’s head and, you know, breed with the hat. A tiny honeycomb of chambers collects the sperm, and it’s immediately transferred by a tiny syringe to a female. This method worked incredibly well, and it saved the species. It’s believed there are around 3,000 breeding pairs in North America today.